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Growing stronger, healthier together

Nearly every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at 9:30 a.m., the Sacred Heart Community Center becomes the gathering place for a group of 8 to 12 women who gather for an hour-long exercise program known as Bone Builders.

The regimen is open to anyone who seeks to improve their health and improve bone density. Since February 2010, members who come from Sacred Heart and Renville have met regularly at the Sacred Heart Community Center.

These women decided to make their own “Bone Builders” exercise program in Sacred Heart, at the urging of Adris Kjersten. They meet nearly every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Sacred Heart Community Center. Contributed photo

These women decided to make their own “Bone Builders” exercise program in Sacred Heart, at the urging of Adris Kjersten. They meet nearly every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Sacred Heart Community Center. Contributed photo

It was Ardis Kjersten, whom the members affectionately refer to as the godmother of the group, who made the connection several years ago with organizers through a Senior Expo. Ardis, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, attended the meeting in Olivia. Attendees were asked to identify a community where a program could be established.

“Why not Sacred Heart?” she asked, frustrated that the possibility wasn’t considered. The response was simple. “Can you find a place to meet?” She came back to Sacred Heart, made some inquiries, and the rest is history. She is the source of inspiration of many members.

The community provided support for the fledgling group. The Sacred Heart Jaycees subsidized the cost of equipment, and the city of Sacred Heart provided exercise space in the community center. Sessions are led by volunteers. There is no age requirement or charge to participate, and frequency of attendance is a matter of personal choice.

Participants bring their own hand weights, while small one-half pound weights are available for those who wish to use them. The local program abides by the requirements and recommendations of Ecumen RSVP (Responding to Community Needs Through Volunteer Service) Bone Builders, and a doctor’s approval to participate is required.

Exercise sessions are led by Janet Vedell and Evie Elliot, both of whom have attended initial training and refresher courses in Hutchinson.

The developers of the program point out that weight-bearing exercise benefits not only muscular strength and bone density, but improves heart health, coordination, and balance. According to Evie Elliot, a completion of a session provides a balanced use of all muscles in the body.

A major concern for women is that of osteoporosis, and Bone Builders is a way of creating denser, stronger bones. A New England Journal of Medicine study reported that senior women who exercised twice a week gained 1 percent bone mass after one year while a control group lost 2 – 2.5 percent of bone mass. Proper exercise stresses bones, and stimulated by the stress, bone density increases.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis is a major public health threat for an estimated 44 million Americans or 55 percent of the people age 50 or older. One of the most sobering statistics is that one-half of all American women will experience a fracture due to osteoporosis by the age of 75

Participation in the sessions provides not just health benefits, but if laughter is good medicine there is an ample supply. While sessions conscientiously include all components of the regimen, it is often broken up by storytelling and laughter. The sessions provide an opportunity to meet new people where common concerns are shared and discussed.

Pat Ashburn and Janet Vedell are enthusiastic about the fellowship the program provides. Janet added that she has met new people and considers members good friends. Members not only support each other in good health habits, but have become good friends, participating in animated conversation at the beginning and end of sessions. For Patricia Buschette, the sessions have provided the opportunity for new friendships as well an exercise routine. Friendship and camaraderie are common themes that result in celebrations for special birthdays, holiday potlucks, or just because it seems like a good idea.

There are as many reasons to attend as attendees, and for Beryl Perry and Judy Malecek, it is the routine of an exercise program that is important.

One thing that is consistent with the group is the health benefits. Jean Hendrickson noted that the monthly check of blood pressure (provided by Renville County Public Health) after sessions reveals that the readings are better than normal. She added that the sessions help with flexibility in limbering back and neck muscles, making her a safer driver. Rita Heidebrink, one of the newest members, sees it as an opportunity to build muscle.

Shirley Strandjord added that exercise helps her deal with stress, and she simply feels much stronger and has better balance. Because of the program, she says she is conscious about her posture.

The ability to bend down and tie her shoes, the bounce in her step and standing up without support are all reasons that encourage Nancy Hoff to participate. Susan Stai put it simply, “I feel better; not so many aches and pains.”

Cherry Reinke reported that her doctor is much happier with her, but is adamant that she appreciates the flexibility of the program. “I don’t have to be there or do some exercises if my body says not to.”

An exercise program is a good New Year’s resolution, but for the members of the Bone Builder group of Sacred Heart, a New Year’s resolution to maintain good health lasts throughout the year.

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